With the second and final presidential debate now over, it's hard to imagine any single event between now and the election that might significantly alter current preferences. ``I'm going to vote for Bush and hope he doesn't die in office,'' says Henry Schlotterer, a drafting inspector from Norristown, Pa. When first interviewed last month Mr. Schlotterer wasn't supporting either candidate. ``We're on the right road now and I'd like to see it continue,'' is his answer for why he chose Vice-President George Bush.
Living just a block up the street, Ilona Meers works as a secretary in Norristown. A Democrat, she was leaning toward Mr. Bush when first interviewed. She agrees with Mr. Schlotterer that Bush did a better job during the debate. Even so, she has now moved to the Dukakis side of the political ledger.
``I just wasn't happy with Dan Quayle,'' she explains, ``and I don't trust Mr. Bush because of the Iran-contra scandal.'' Mrs. Meers thinks the country needs a change and a liberal president can best do the job.
Mrs. Meers and Mr. Schlotterer are part of a Monitor survey of potential voters in Warren, Mich., and Norristown. Door-to-door interviews were conducted in September with 74 households in neighborhoods considered highly representative of swing and independent voters nationwide. Political analysts believe the final preferences of voters like these, mostly blue-collar and middle class, will determine the next president.
``I'm very confused,'' says Marie Wisniewski, a Democrat from Warren after seeing the debate. ``All they are doing is going at each other.'' She thought the debate was boring, and so are the candidates. When first interviewed last month she was undecided but leaning to Bush. Mrs. Wisniewski is now solidly in the vice-president's column.
The only reason she now supports Bush is because of his association with President Reagan. ``When you think of it, these last eight years haven't been bad. If Bush can do as well as Reagan has, then things will continue to be OK,'' she says.
Evhen Roman, a independent voter in Warren, is still leaning toward Mr. Dukakis because he feels the Massachusetts governor has a better domestic agenda. He thought both candidates did well in the debate and says his final decision, since he prefers Bush's foreign policy, will be a tough one.
``My parents came from Eastern Europe,'' he explains. ``We are very familiar with the Soviet tactics. We are afraid Mr. Dukakis is just a little naive in regard to the Soviets.'' Mr. Evhen, who works as a tool-and-die maker, expects to make his final choice in the voting booth.
Kathryn Bajkowski, a homemaker from Warren, had no candidate preferences when first interviewed last month. For a time, she and her husband leaned toward Vice-President Bush, Mrs. Bajkowski says. But then she saw his ads where he lifts up and kisses a baby, an act she thought was insincere. Then they leaned toward Governor Dukakis, but close friends who live in Massachusetts convinced them not to. It wasn't until the debate that they made their final decision.
``I think they are both ding-a-lings,'' Mrs. Bajkowski said after watching the LA event. ``It's only piddly things they talk about.'' So they turned off the debate before it was over and decided to stay home on election day.
Dolly Bernadic is retired and lives in Warren, not far from Mrs. Bajkowski. A Democrat who was leaning toward Dukakis last month, Mrs. Bernadic now says she has no preference.
``They just don't show any spark,'' she says with slight disgust. ``They're just boring. There's no life in them.'' She turned off the television before the debate ended.
Although these few interviews do not constitute a scientific sampling, national polling does indicate that Bush is pulling ahead of Dukakis among undecided voters. An LA Times poll shows Bush picking up seven percentage points from the weekend before the debate to last Friday. The Republican ticket now leads by 52 to 42 percent, according to the poll of 529 debate viewers with a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points. The survey also showed the number of undecided voters shrinking from 12 percent a week ago to just five percent after the debate.